Black greek organizations on campus step up age-old tradition

Emma Carew

For some black greeks, stepping goes beyond just a bond of brotherhood or sisterhood.

“It’s something I feel is very positive,” said Quinton Bonds, Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, president. “It dates back to our African roots, and it feels good to be able to hold on to that.”

Stepping is a rhythmic performance art practiced by black greeks across the nation, he said. It combines intricate footwork, foot stomps, vocals and handclaps, he said.

Aurelius Butler, Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, treasurer, said stepping is an “expression of unity.”

“When you come together in synchronized motions, you’re becoming one,” he said. “For us, stepping signifies brotherhood. We will never tell a brother he couldn’t step. If he’s a bad stepper, he’s just going to have to try harder.”

Butler’s fraternity is the oldest black fraternity on the University campus and was founded in 1911.

Stepping incorporates some “universal moves,” Bonds said.

Bonds’ group has a signature move called the “Alpha Train,” he said.

“Any Alpha chapter that you ever meet will know about the “Alpha Train,’ ” Bonds said.

Other groups on campus have their trademarks, like hopping or stepping in canes, he said.

Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, is the three-year reigning champion of the Midwest Greek Step Show, Bonds said.

There are nine black fraternities and sororities within the National Pan-Hellenic Council, called the “Divine Nine,” and they compete together at different step shows, he said.

Stepping hails from Africa, Bonds said.

“It was a way that (Africans) celebrated, that they communicated,” he said.

Stepping evolved from the chants and dances that slaves did to remind themselves of their homelands, he said.

In a sense, black fraternities and sororities re-enact the movements, making the steps more intricate and adding their own movements and vocals, Bonds said.

Cory Croft, Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu Chapter, vice president, said he enjoys reaching a large demographic with step shows.

The Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, team performs around the community, at University functions and at high schools, he said, and “everybody enjoys it.”

“You can find stepping wherever you find black greeks,” Croft said.

The other organizations on campus that step are Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, and Delta Sigma Theta, he said.

The Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, team spends between 10 hours and 15 hours each week practicing and working on step routines, Croft said.

“At step practice, it creates a bond,” he said, “kind of like a getaway from all the other things that we do.”

A step master, in this case Bonds, teaches the routines to the team members, Croft said, and each step is broken down to teach the movements.

Bonds said it is important for a brother to make a commitment to the team and for him to have the ability to express the ideas he comes up with.

He said it also is important to “definitely have some kind of rhythm, too,” he said.

For the members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Mu chapter, stepping complements the organization’s community-based work, Butler said.

Their ventures include “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People,” a program to encourage minorities to vote and “Go to High School, Go to College,” a program to help students prepare for college, he said.

“Stepping is a part of our culture; for us, it’s like food,” Butler said. “It gives us nourishment so we can do our programming.”